Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Graphic Novels

Even though I am a children's librarian, and feel I should read EVERYTHING, I prefer middle grade fiction. I think this comes from my childhood when my dad would limit our library books even though I finished reading mine days before it was time to go back to the library. Therefore, I picked the thickest books I could find in the children's section.

I hadn't read many graphic novels, except the few that were nominated for SLJ's Battle of the Kids' Books and the elementary graphic selection from Junior Library Guild that I receive every month. However, as any librarian worth her salt, I have ordered plenty of them for my school library, and am familiar with lots of titles.  After reading Our Only May Amelia, I decided I had to read a Babymouse book so I bought Happy Birthday Babymouse.  Then I borrowed Raina Telgemeier's Smile and Drama from my 11-year old.  I enjoyed them so much that I preordered Sisters from my local Indie.  When I get it, I will be a reader first and a parent second because I intend to hide that book from my children and read it after their bedtime.

I found more great graphic novels at my public library:

I won two books in blog giveaways in one month. As such, it is time for, ahem, ahem, *My first blog giveaway!* In celebration of my discovery (as a reader) of graphic novels, I will give one graphic novel to three readers. Ways to win:

1. Tweet this link or retweet. Mention @sralph31 so I see your tweet.
2. Comment below.
3. Respond to my FB post.
4. Email me at

Your choices are below (note, if you choose Sisters, you will not receive your book until after it releases on August 26). You can put your choice in your tweet or email, or inform me if you win.  None of these float your boat; give me the title of a graphic novel I should add.  Good luck!  Contest ends on Friday, July 4th at 11:59 pm.  US and Canada only.

Friday, June 20, 2014


So my Twitter friend Niki @daydreamreader started an initiative called #booksmiles. In her blog post, Niki shared Hooray for Hat, a delightful picture book by Brian Won. In this book, animals combat grumpiness by wearing a hat.

Lately, the books I've been reading have led to more tears than smiles. What benefits does a child get from reading sad books?  It can be a source of therapy if a child has experienced something similar, and it teaches empathy. Also, crying can be cathartic. My favorite book as a child was Charlotte's Web by E.B. White.

I cried every time I got to the part where Charlotte died, even though I knew it was coming. Most sad children's books end on a hopeful note, and that is reflective of real life. Struggles and disappointments are inevitable, but they are balanced by hope and joy. Here are the #booktears I read this week.

Circa lives with her parents, who both are skilled in the area of photography. Mom takes pictures and Dad restores old photographs.  A terrible tragedy changes Circa's life forever. To help her deal with the "ordeal," she has her best friend, Nat and Miles, a boy who turns up at her house with no memory of who he is. A unique feature of this book are photographs that have been "Shopt." Since Dad restores photographs, he uses Photoshop and on some pictures he adds a new detail and then makes up a story that goes with the new creation. I loved the writing and the lessons in this book, like when Circa says,  "And now I know that even if God lets somebody life's be short, there could be still be one now that makes the coming and going of his soul totally worth it."

Reading this for my Newbery Challenge. May Amelia is growing up on the frontier in Oregon in 1899.  She is the only daughter in a family with seven boys. She is a complete tomboy and always wants to tag along with her brothers.  This gets her into trouble because Pappa says, "I am a Girl and because I am a girl I cannot be going what the boys are doing, that there is danger everywhere." May Amelia is spunky and I found her take on her surrounding to be so humorous.  Perhaps, that is why the tragedy hit me so hard. Even though this book is 15 years old, I will not spoil it for you. The tragedy (and its aftermath) was one of the saddest things I have ever read.  However, Jennifer Holm brings us back from the depths of despair, ending on a hopeful note.  And, guess what?  There's a sequel.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Let's talk about labels

I literally mean labels...on books.  It might seem like a librarian issue, but it can have an impact on a student's freedom to read. I was inspired to write about this after participating in a Twitter conversation on best practices for teachers with the hashtag #bproots and led by educators, Donalyn Miller @donalynbooks and Teri Lesesne @ProfessorNana

I'll start by criticizing myself.  Yes, we still have AR labels on many of our books, although we no longer use the program.  Why? Guess what happens when you peel these labels off?  You're left with a sticky mess. Any advice on how to deal with this would be helpful. I need to start the process of removing these labels.

At least the label from the book from my library could be removed.  Not the case here:

What's wrong with these labels? Book levels and age recommendations are readily available online for teachers, librarians and parents who need that information.  When we slap a label on a book, kids feel pressure (at least indirectly) to only read books recommended for their age level or reading level.  Also, if you read below grade level, who wants to carry around a book that announces that?

I checked out this book yesterday:

We live in NC, and I have two words to describe the mindset here: red state.  However, I must give major props to my public library for having this book available.  I wouldn't mind reading this book in public and would welcome questions about it, but what about a teen who is unsure of their sexuality?  This book could change their life, but maybe they are afraid to be seen reading it, or to even check it out.  

I think we should let books stand on their own.  A big topic of discussion from #bproots was trusting students in regards to reading.  We need to trust students to choose books without relying on labels.  Too often, kids are restricted when making their own reading choices, and these restrictions contribute to a culture of nonreaders.  Labels provide restrictions. Librarians are champions of reading and I do not believe anyone means labels to be harmful, but maybe we should rethink our use of them.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Indies Rule!

So I've been an shopper for a long time.  I also have frequented B&N and Borders, before its demise. Then I read this post by author/illustrator Peter Brown.  My heart sank a little bit.  No more Amazon?  But, but, is so easy, so convenient, so cheap.  However, I respect Peter Brown too much not to at least explore other options.  So I searched the IndieBound site and found a local independent bookstore about 20 miles away.  It is called Scuppernong Books and is located in downtown Greensboro, NC.  I do not balk at paying the list price so my biggest fear was shipping costs, but they have this cool option - pick up in the store.  I was impressed to get a personal email from the bookseller telling me that my order had been placed.  I was able to actually to respond to the email and ask a question about their store.  I was so impressed with the correspondence that I ordered 3 more books.  Two came in that very week so I made my first visit on Saturday.  Below are my purchases and some pictures that I took at the store.  As for, I will definitely be buying other things there, but books?  Not anymore.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Newbery Challenge 2001

My Newbery Challenge is to read all of the medal and honor books from starting with the present and going back to 1922. Since this challenge is going to take years, if not decades, I decided not to read books again that I've read since I began my reading record in 2003.  Here is a list of Newbery books I have read.

In 2001, the medal winner was:

I read this in 2004 and Grandma Dowdel is one of the most memorable characters in children's literature.  It is definitely deserving of its medal!  If you haven't read this one, you should, and when you do, get ready to laugh and laugh.


I also read this in 2004.  Oh how I love this book!  Thanks to Kate DiCamillo, a dog named Winn-Dixie, a mouse named Despereaux and a squirrel named Ulysses are among my heroes.

I read Joey Pigza Loses Control earlier this year and could only see it through the lens of a parent.  Joey goes to stay with his father and his paternal grandmother for six weeks. Unfortunately, the trip is NOT wonderful, and Joey winds up in real danger. This book terrified me! Entrusting your child to someone else and then having them completely fail to live up to that responsibility is one of the worst things that can happen to a parent.

Sophie is an adopted child (this is Sharon Creech after all) who travels with her two uncles and cousins across the Atlantic Ocean to England.  I am not a fan of boats and had bouts of psychological seasickness while reading about her journey.  I enjoyed the stories she told about her grandfather most of all.  My favorite Sharon Creech book is still Ruby Holler, which was not recognized by the award committee.

I recently finished this one and it is a good reminder that the Newbery criteria states that books for children up to age 14 are eligible for this award.  Hope lives with her aunt and has moved around a lot.  She is a teenager who loves being a waitress.  Interestingly enough, she was originally named Tulip and actually changed her name to hope.  She and her aunt move to Wisconsin to help a diner owner who is diagnosed with leukemia.  A mayoral race is a large focus of this book, and the small town politics make for an interesting read.

On to year 2000!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Books = Community

So I've mentioned this on Twitter before, but as a child, reading was an escape for me.  I had a stuttering problem, and I was quiet and shy.  As I grew up, reading also helped me to escape from things I didn't want to face, particularly the break up of my family.  I always knew I wanted to be a librarian because I loved books.  Even though I've outgrown my shyness as an adult, my reading life was something I held private, escaping to my own little world when the stress of real life got to be too much.

I started blog hunting in order to help me find books to order for my library.  The first one I followed was authored by two teachers (although I think Franki was a librarian back then) in Ohio,  A Year of Reading.  I quickly added A Fuse #8 Production and Heavy Medal.  Then I hit the mother load - Nerdy Book Club, a community of readers, a community that anyone who loves reading can join and instantly belong.  I came out of lurking mode to actually make a post.

Then the Twitter revolution came.  I had a Twitter account, but found it to be so overwhelming.  I've since learned how to use it and it is now my favorite social media site.  I love being able to talk to children's book authors/illustrators.  Just this week, I've exchanged tweets with Peter BrownAmber McRee TurnerJess Keating and Natalie Lloyd.  Then there is the never ending PLN with so many great teachers and librarians; there are quite literally too many to name, and I'd hate to leave anyone out.

My online community has influenced my real life in that I am much more eager to share my reading life with others.  It defines who I am, so if I hide it, I'm not showing anyone the real me.  This year, I held a workshop for teachers on inspiring the love of reading and recently, one of the new teachers in my building said she and I should start a book club next year because we both love reading.  I have learned so much from Nerdy Book Club nation and I can't express how grateful I am to all of you for making me a better teacher, librarian, parent and reader.  For me, reading is no longer a way to escape; it is a way to connect.

Best of all, my online reading community and my real life will overlap when I go to nErDcamp MI this summer!  My 11-year-old daughter is going to nErDcamp Jr.

We were talking last night about how far Michigan is from NC.  When I showed her on the map, she gasped, "It is farther away than Pennsylvania!"  Yep, 624 miles!

Organizer Colby Sharp gives you 10 Reasons Why You Should Come to nErDcamp MI!  Post from 2013, but all the reasons still apply. And check out this cool trailer.  I'll see you there!